Hey! It’s February y’all and that means another month of FebUp (#febup2020).
Each year in this particular month I try to pick a theme that speaks to the mental health concerns of people I work for and live with. I post something on Instagram most weekdays with the hope that they will spark ideas, suggest practices, or create space for figuring life out together. You can check it out @gottasecond.
In January I canvassed clients, bartenders, and friends about the two themes most on their mind. What would be most helpful to talk about? What were the questions people had? Turned out to be: anxiety and identity. This weekender edition will be a compilation for Week 1 of February. We will be discussing Identity Formation.
Welcome! Ready for a long read? I hope so. This topic is vast!
First a bit of a framework for the posts ahead.
How do you navigate the paths and pivots of re/discovering what you are all about?
How do you figure out what to do with your life?
Some context: For many, many people, this is a question they never get to ask. Their lives are more about securing shelter, safety, and food. So to be clear, this is a privileged question. Nevertheless, I think it’s still valid if we can transcend our bent toward self-absorption and ensure our journey does not oppress or ignore the voices around us. So, identity exploration, yes, but also locating your real self in real community.
First up is VOICE.
Become familiar with your own VOICE amongst the others in your head.
Lovely, but what does that even mean?
Plain speaking: Shut up the inner critic and the “should be/believe/behave” echolalia, silence the voice of that family member or teacher who clearly wanted you to be different, and start to listen to the other voice that is typically quieter but keeps stubbornly telling you what you really know about yourself and what you feel and want. You’ll be able to tell the difference because your real voice is the encouraging, affirming, compassionate, welcoming one.
Here are a few questions to try:
- What voice(s) are you listening to and why? (I learned to recognize my inside voice and I kicked out a few negative informers. More on this later.)
- What is your ‘inside voice’ instructing you to do? (This was less ‘woo-woo’ and more solid and practical—active listening.)
- Are you afraid to trust your own voice over the voice of others? (I trusted people and thought they wanted the best for me. Turns out many were self-focused and wanted the best for them.)
- How did you learn how to be who you are now? We have all been socialized within contexts and systems and cultures. What did your influencers teach you? (I began to examine my beliefs and values and see if they fit me anymore. Many of them had never fit me but I hadn’t been paying attention.
An extra exercise for VOICE:
- Set some time aside for some brainstorming and dreaming. Get yourself ready. You’ll need some blank paper and a writing tool.
- Sit and breathe deeply until relaxed. This is, oddly, a mildly stressful exercise—it’s unfamiliar and it’s little risky.
- Push past any fear and crankiness and move toward curiosity and awareness.
Then, try this:
- Doodle randomly on a page or two to loosen your brain and hand.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes and then start writing words—write whatever comes to mind. Try not to lift the pen from the paper. If you don’t know what to write, doodle or create random words and phrases or pictures of your emotions.
- Don’t edit, criticize your skill or process, think about your thinking, try to be profound or anything else (no thanks, inner critic), filter out bad thoughts and ideas, or try to force anything.
- Instead, be playful and curious and interested in your self. Ask your voice to come forward because you are ready to hear it (sounds weird but it works). Ask yourself a question if you need some structure. But be careful with this. You are not interrogating; you are curious, you are creating and you are imagining. Big difference.
Some questions to consider while you’re writing:
- If time and money were no object, what would I do tomorrow or next week?
- If I woke up tomorrow and everything was exactly how I wanted it to be, what would be different?
Do this exercise 5 minutes a day (minimum) for a week (minimum). After a long while, gather up any recurring ideas, themes, complaints, emotions, and stories. Please don’t do the cataloguing too soon. You’ll kill off the dreaming stage and the inner critic will re-emerge, as strong and nasty as ever.
Life narratives could be understood as memories entwined with structures of plot and theme: they can be dearly loved or hated, fragmented, buried, changeable, re-told and re-membered. They are identifiers of why and who we are and where we’ve been, and how we fit into the bigger narratives of history and culture.
Where do identity stories come from?
Lived experience, sure, but also family, media, peers, work, culture, and context. And we don’t always know the truth-claim or the origin of the story: Was that our lived experience or were we told the story so many times it has became that? Likewise, did that story really happen or was it a dream? What identity stories are we moving into or out of?
Are all your identity stories true?
Our stories can shape-shift over time as we remember them through the current lens. We sometimes live into labels, adding them into our stories without much conscious thought. Unfortunately, people will foist stories upon us for self-indulgent reasons. Stories are not always accurate; our own version can be skewed or truncated.
Who has the story-telling rights to your story?
I am challenged by this question often, especially when wrestling with oppression, colonization, and my own privilege (This will rightly be a forever challenge.). But I want to challenge the viewing lenses for my personal stories as well, realizing that other people had a vested interest—whether for good or not-so-good—in shaping those stories and deciding which ones were allowed to be held and told.
How do you re-author an identity story?
Re-telling, re-membering, collecting narrative fragments (especially with trauma), and shifting “thin” narratives into richer, multi-voiced stories: this is the work of re-authoring. The process allows us some space to consider who and what we are really about and to creative a future narrative we want to live into.
For me, the basic structure of re-authoring looks something like this: write or record your primary identity stories; apply some critical thinking, some objective reassessment, and a deeply compassionate lens; then, rewrite the story from the perspective of your innate ‘inner knowing’.
If that seems inaccessible (and even if it doesn’t), gather wise voices around you. Let them inform your stories and fill in the gaps with graces, the hollows with reassurance, and the horrors with witness and presence. Allow yourself to craft a revision, an altered landscape that allows you to heal and flourish.
The process in four words: awareness; allowing; re-claiming; proclaiming.
That means getting more comfortable with the shy, intuitive, and scaredy-cat side of you that wants to believe what you know but is worried that you might create some fabrication. No, that has most likely already happened. Your inner ‘knower’ is not going to let that happen.
Some questions you could reflect on:
- What do your stories say about you?
- Who first told you the stories of who you are?
- What stories need to be re-written?
- Whose voice is missing in your story?
- Who are you listening to? Who is listening to your stories?
- Are there chapters needing a rewrite or an ending?
- When you are asked to share a story about yourself, what comes to mind?
When I turned 53, I was quite enchanted by words describing my relationship to time. So many were combative (killing time) or locked into scarcity and productivity models (out of time; spending time). Today, when thinking about how identity intersects with time and time of life I remembered I had some poems on the subject.
If it makes sense to you, read through the poems and see if any words resonate; explore their connection to your context and season of life. I’ll add a few TIME questions in today’s IG story and post them again in the Weekender version of #febup2020.
I am fifty-three.
long past my long future
fifty-three years old
learning how to act my age.
tangled in time zones.
Poem: It’s About Time (revised 2020)
Today, I pause to think about this time.
I have time; I don’t have the time.
This is the exact time, all the time I need.
I’ll give you some of my time.
This is your time. You don’t say.
Be on time; keep in time; inhabit the time.
Those were the best of times, the only time, the right time.
Time flies, it creeps, it fleets.
It passes; I pass it.
Well, would you look at the time? Please do.
Being time. I live into the time: minutes, hours, flying by.
Keep up; hurry up; move on, fast forward.
I’m running out of time; I’ll add more time, bonus time.
I’m sifting and shifting all the time in this time.
Slow down, for God’s sake. Take your time.
Time slips and sticks in fingers and memories
thin wafers—brittle, fragile, mean
fat pockets—expand, fill, sighs.
The plurality of time is exuberance.
Hey, what time is it? Are you ready?
Some STORY questions to ponder:
- What are you discovering about time, now and in your life-time?
- What/who governs the use of your time? Would you be willing to change that relationship?
- Do you want to make time for something? Does that mean giving time or taking time?
- How do you pause and suspend the demands of time?
- What is readiness-time for you? Is ii different from time-keeping? Is time a liberator or a tyrant?
I have struggled with depression on and off in my life, but it was never so bad as when I was living in opposition to what I call my ‘true self’ (yup-just dropped a woo-woo word.) When I tried to live into other people’s expectations and scripts, my soul withered away to a stump and at one point, I wanted to give up on living.
My authentic, true self is not my public self that is trying to be someone else. It’s not the one that’s managing the expectations of others in ways that diminish who I am. It’s not the self that follows along blindly or unwillingly. It is the full expression of how I was created to be.
How did I learn this? You’re probably going to dislike the answer…but I learned almost everything through trial and error and a lot of running around in circles on the wrong track. It took a lot of grieving, self-awareness, reflection, and some hard decision-making over a long period of time. There was a lot of deconstruction and a lot of discards strewn behind me.
I had the ‘opportunity’ to try again a few decades ago. I shovelled my way through piles of crap and pissed a few people off in the process. But, although some preferred the old me, they got used to the new me, which was actually the old me (confused yet?). The new-old me feasted on rediscovered values, beliefs, and interests. I made new friends, unearthed some deep desires, and planted some life-giving practices.
The identity formation process was long…embarrassingly so and it’s not over. Long because of the powerful voices and belief systems I was immersed in, because I lacked the courage to act on my convictions, and because I had little support for the process at the time.
I hope that things are different for you and that you are not struggling with these same things, but if you are, gather up that tiny kernel of courage and begin wherever you are. It’ll be hard, very hard, but oh-so worth it. Take little bites and chew them for a while. Spit out what doesn’t taste good.
Live into your true, glorious self y’all!
Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
IG account: https://www.instagram.com/sharivanspronsen/
Previous FebUp posts: #febup2018; #febup2019
Current posts: #febup2020
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